The Yellow & Blue visit the Czech Republic for a date with Slavia Prague on Matchday 1 of the Europa League Group Stages. In order to better prepare for the battle at hand against former Maccabi Tel Aviv winger and current Sparta Prague player Tal Ben Chaim’s new Derby opponent, we spoke to Ian Hunt a Prague football expert and Jan Vacek from Denik Sport.

Slavia Prague was founded in 1892 and features a long and storied history winning 18 domestic titles. However, after beginning as primarily a cycling club, football was added in 1896. The Czech Republic outfit won their first domestic title in 1913 when they captured the Bohemian Football Union championship while their next 13 league triumphs came in the Czechoslovak First League. Following many years in the lower divisions, the next time Slavia won the league was in 1996, after the split between Slovakia and the Czech Republic and have won three times since, with the most recent coming this past season.

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The current squad has a number of key players explains Hunt: “Simon Deli & Milan Škoda are very important to the team. Deli is a calming presence at the back who was sorely missed in the Champions League qualifiers with APOEL, while Škoda has been Slavia’s chief goal getter for the past few seasons and is the focal point of the attack.” Vacek added that another player to watch out for is, “Offensive midfielder Josef Hušbauer who is the heart and soul of team and a very productive playmaker.”

“Head Coach Jaroslav Šilhavý has worked wonders since joining club,” according to Hunt. “Slavia are unbeaten in the league since he took over (over 30 games now!) and took the team to the cup semi final, which was a unfortunately a shock defeat but was redeemed by winning the league shortly thereafter.”

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Vacek echoed his compatriot’s thoughts: “Jaroslav Šilhavý is a very distinguished and smart coach as well as being a great person. But he is under a lot of pressure because Slavia failed to qualify for the Champions League.”

“Slavia’s style of play uses shorts passes and they are generally really good in the passing game,” explained Hunt. “They are also trying to be creative from defenders. They want to control every match and they usually have a high percentage in ball possession.” Vacek added that, “Slavia will be patient and will maintain possession of the ball. Traditionally, they play a 4-5-1 with a solid, defensive minded midfield.”

Maccabi fans who will descend upon the Eden Arena for the match will be in for a treat when it comes to the Slavia supporters said Hunt: “The fans are passionate and demanding. The club’s tradition is that regardless of the result or performance, the team always goes to the main supporters (Tribuna Sever) and one of the players takes the megaphone to lead the “Děkovačka” – The players shouts down the megaphone & the ultras repeat after the player.”

Looking at Slavia’s chances going forward, Hunt felt that they will have a “strong chance in the home game with good attendance because at times the noise levels against APOEL were deafening and it could have an impact on the outcome. However, Maccabi is coming to Prague at a good time, as on the Sunday after the match they are at home to Sparta in a crucial league contest for both clubs. I wouldn’t be surprised if Šilhavý will rest the key men for the Derby, as we’re already behind Plzen & don’t want to be further adrift so early in the season.”

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Vacek concluded that, “From the Slavia point of view, they would think that they are the favorites in this matchup. But from my point of view, as I remember Maccabi from the Plzeň games two years ago, it will be very tough for Slavia. In my opinion it’s 60:40 in favor of Maccabi.

Fun Facts about Slavia Prague:

1) Slavia’s first coach was Scotsman John Madden and he spent so much of his life in Prague, that he actually forgot how to speak English by the time of his death.

2) On of Maccabi’s former Europa League opponents, Hajduk Split were formed after a group of students from Split attended a match between Slavia & Sparta Praha. The clubs remain friends to this day.

3) Slavia legend Josef Bican is regarded as one of the games most prolific goal scorers (607 goals) ever but amazingly most people don’t even know who he is.

4) Maccabi Tel Aviv will be Slavia’s first Israeli opponent but they have played many of the same clubs the Yellow & Blue have in continental action including Ajax, APOEL, PAOK, Panathinaikos and Grasshopper.